Monday, March 28, 2016

Batman V Superman - Dawn of Justice Review

When my cousins and I get together we almost always talk about movies for hours. So, it should come as no surprise that after Easter dinner when I got a visit from my cousins (several of them wearing Superman logos on some article of clothing, except for the youngest who was wearing a Spiderman outfit), we got into Batman V. Superman : Dawn of Justice. To my younger cousins, it was like telling them there was no Santa Claus. To my older cousins, it was like telling them there was no God.
After the first 30-40 minutes my cousin, an intelligent young man of 7 observed, “Well, you keep saying it was a bad movie but you’re also mentioning a lot of things you liked about it!” I replied by asking him what his favourite food was. Favourite drink? What’s your favourite dessert? Now what if I took, spaghetti, apple pie and sprite, put it in a blender and then told you to drink it? Well, that’s what’s wrong with Batman V Superman. There’s a lot of stuff to enjoy in that slurry of favourites, but you only get to taste them as errant chunks that may brush incidentally against the right taste bud.

There’s a good movie in Batman V Superman. Maybe there’s several good movies in Batman V Superman. There's a Batman movie. There's a Superman vs Lex movie. There's a Wonder Woman movie. They’re just blended together into a structureless mess that’s difficult to follow. You don’t get a chance to anchor yourself with any particular element of the movie, be it an emotional thread or just a plot point, before you’re jerked into a new scene with no establishing shot. One moment Superman is flying away. “Where is he going?” Then some stuff happens at night with Lex Luthor. Then we cut to Superman’s face but he’s in the mountains and it’s daytime and maybe he’s hallucinating the stuff that’s happening in that scene. Cut to more night time stuff. Cut to Superman rescuing Lois from peril and Lois declaring, “You came back!” What...? He came back? Wait, he left? Why? It’s disorienting. And the whole movie has a feeling of random events that are not well connected.

So what about the taste chunks that I enjoyed? I guess for starters I was excited that Batman and Superman were in the same movie. That may have been enough for me to enjoy this movie. Sue me! I like the main story which is simply that Batman and Lex Luthor are afraid of Superman so they devise plans to kill him. As the movie goes along their motivations become pretty muddled though.

Some of the action scenes were fun, especially the ones with Batman in them. Ben Affleck is a great Batman, maybe my favourite Batman but he’s given a clumsy, awkward script. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman is not bad either. I always liked Henry Cavill as Superman. I find he plays the role with a kind of alien detachment that works for this interpretation of the character. Sure, he’s a bit of a drag. He’s kind of mopey all the time and he makes rescuing people seem like a burden. The movie could have afforded to make his rescues something to cheer at. Instead the audience is asked to contemplate Superman’s actions. “Do we want a Superman?”

And I think the common sense answer to that question is “yes”. It would be great to have an omnipotent being, flying around saving everyone. But it would be nice if he smiled while doing it. And I’m not saying that’s not a good question for a movie to ask. The movie tries to set you up for a speculative, science fiction outing where we’re supposed to wonder what it would be like if Superman/God were real. Would he be political? Would we want him to kill bad people? Would he defer to the judgement of humanity or would he act according to his own will and make his own judgements?

And the movie answers this question in the character of Lex Luthor, played by a twitchy, manic Jesse Eisenberg. His answer is, “God doesn’t exist because if he’s all powerful, then he’s obviously not all good and if he’s all good he’s obviously not all powerful.” Which is Superman? Batman has a theory, and he tests it by punching Superman in the face and shooting him with things. It’s also interesting to note that Batman actually does all of those things that we are scared an omnipotent God would do.

Look, you either like this stuff or you don’t. Is it too pretentious for a movie about men in tights? Maybe. And there’s no denying that whatever the thematic ambitions of this movie are, they are not well handled. Batman V Superman is a choppy, frenetic product spliced together with commercials for other movies that we’ll be getting in the DC universe. But, at this point, I’m kind of grateful that they made the effort to do something like this.  We get a lot of super-hero/sci-fi action movies these days and they mostly (with some exceptions) follow the same formula. Someone discovers they have powers or a suit. And then there’s a bad guy with similar powers or a suit and he wants to destroy a planet (or 5) for no other reason than he’s the bad guy for this movie. And I enjoy those kinds of movies too! But if Batman V Superman is like a slurry of many different foods that don’t go together, Disney sci-fi/action movies are like eating Cheerios for breakfast, lunch and supper every day. (Yes, I’m doing the Marvel vs DC thing. Sue me!)

I'm about to talk about some very important, dark, depressing stuff. That's what people like in comic book movies, right?

So BvS gets a pass from me just for being different, tonally, visually and thematically. Lots of people say the movie is too dark, too serious, too depressing and it’s a drag. You know what? I like that stuff! If you don’t, stay away! Early in the movie we’re treated to a guy screaming, “I can’t feel my legs!” When Batman asks a little girl where her mom is, the girl points a trembling finger to a ravaged skyscraper. Okay, all of that was a bummer, even for me. And I don’t think my little cousin would necessarily enjoy the darkness of it, though he assured me that he’s quite used to violent movies. I didn’t have the heart to tell him, “No, Batman V. Superman : Dawn of Justice is a movie for grown-ass men!” Then I’d have to snatch his Superman tuque off of his head, throw it on the floor and start stomping on it.

There are lots of elements you’ll either like or not based on your personal tastes. I found Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex fun enough. He’s not a version of Lex Luthor we’re familiar with. He would have made a great Riddler! And even if you do accept that this movie is just doing its own thing with the character, you may or may not just find him extremely annoying. Batman kills people. That may not be your thing, either. Superman has no real motivation in this movie. The movie is more about people reacting to him. Again, a cool idea, but not always fun to watch. We paid our dues in Man of Steel, now we want to see him being a hero!

The supporting cast is great. I thought Holly Hunter and Lawrence Fishburne had a few nice scenes. Amy Adams as Lois is wasted once again. I almost forgot to mention Alfred. I love Jeremy Irons as Alfred. He was a nice addition. Can't wait to see some solo Battfleck movies.

*Spoiler* This is basically a plot point in the movie.
And then there’s the stupid stuff in the movie that is so bad, it's good. The resolution of the big fight between Batman and Superman puts the BS in BvS! It’s silly. Anything having to do with Doomsday is horrible. As if the movie isn't muddle enough, there are dreams, visions and scenes that serve as little more than mini-trailers for future movies in the DCU. One of them in particular (the infamous Knightmare Batman scene) looked great. It just had nothing to do with this movie.

I had too much fun to hate this movie, sometimes waiting for some setup to payoff (which it often didn’t), other times just laughing at some nonsensical scene. Definitely not for everyone and not something I can defend as a “good” movie. Just something I can say I enjoyed enough to want to see again. I think it’s safe to say if you didn’t like Man of Steel you almost certainly won’t like this. If you’re a nerd, watch it with a friend. Worst case scenario you’ll have fun making snide remarks for the challenging 2 hour 30 minute runtime.

6 bathroom sinks to the face out of 10.